While the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has been a major champion of the bill, its international counterpart, WADA, has voiced concerns about the legislation’s reach. The matter came to a head last week at the WADA world conference in Poland, where U.S. anti-doping officials said the proposed legislation was being intentionally mischaracterized.
“They don’t want to understand it,” Travis Tygart, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s chief executive, said in an interview this week. “They’re just playing a political game now to a large extent because I think they’re seriously concerned about it actually cleaning up sport to a large extent around the world. And that makes it uncomfortable for some of their friends.”
The Rodchenkov Act would allow the United States to pursue prosecution for conspirators involved in tainting competitions that involve American athletes and, importantly, U.S. money. Tygart likens the bill’s wide-reaching prosecutorial authority to what’s provided by the Bank and Wire Fraud Act, the RICO Act and the Travel Act, saying “the U.S. government, from a policy standpoint, certainly wants to protect investment by U.S. companies around the world.”
“It’s a fantastic effort that recognizes that doping is fraud,” he said, “and when it’s done by organizations or institutions — whether it’s a sport organization or a nation — that it’s going to be put on the same level as other types of fraud.”
The legislation does not target the athletes necessarily, thus allowing them to step forward as whistleblowers.
According to WADA, more than half of the 38 members of the organization’s foundation board have “reservations with the extraterritoriality aspect of the Act,” and the International Olympic Committee has expressed similar concerns.
“The area which is troublesome is the suggestion that American jurisdiction would go beyond the United States and might create liability in other parts of the world,” WADA President Sir Craig Reedie said in Poland, according to an Associated Press account.
The AP reported last week that WADA has budgeted at least $250,000 for lobbying efforts related to the bill. That surprised some U.S. anti-doping officials, who are quick to note that the United States provided $2.5 million of WADA’s annual budget.
“We are the largest contributors to WADA, and to think that they might be using our own money to lobby against this act without really contacting us or talking through some issues they may or may not have,” said Kendel Ehrlich, a recent Trump appointee to the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy. “To go ahead and lobby against us is very head-scratching. Why would they be doing that?”
In a statement to The Washington Post, Olivier Niggli, WADA’s director general, said the organization is not lobbying against the bill but rather has “some questions in relation to the extraterritoriality part of the Act” and is seeking clarification from lawmakers.
“We simply want to ensure that there are no negative unintended consequences of this Act,” he said, “and that it is entirely complementary to the global mission to fight doping and to protect clean athletes.”
Niggli said WADA supports parts of the legislation that facilitates the sharing of information with different agencies and provides protection for whistleblowers.
“WADA favors governments using their legislative powers to protect clean athletes in the fight against doping,” he said, “and this Act is no different.”
While IOC and WADA have voiced concerns with language that gives the United States the ability to effectively police events that take place on foreign soil, lawmakers and those who support the bill consider it integral to the proposed legislation.
“That’s the operative mechanism,” said Jim Walden, attorney for Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of the Moscow lab. “As long as U.S. athletes or U.S. sponsors can be defrauded, DOJ needs the tools to be able to bring the fraudsters to justice. I think if that part of the bill were removed, it would be a completely toothless venture.”
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), one the bill’s co-sponsors, said the Rodchenkov Act provides “an important legal mechanism to hold accountable those involved in doping conspiracies.”
“I am committed to working with all interested parties to ensure that we can punish bad actors and confront the structural elements that sustain this fraudulent activity,” he said.
The conflict marks the latest point of tension between USADA and WADA. Tygart has been an outspoken critic of WADA’s handling of the Russia doping controversy. WADA is reviewing Russia’s standing after discovering discrepancies with data collected from the Russian Anti-Doping Agency’s Moscow laboratory. Disciplinary recommendations could be made in the coming weeks, possibly endangering Russia’s participation in next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
Tygart says he fears WADA and IOC officials are reluctant to levy serious punishments and are setting the stage for yet another Olympics that will be vulnerable to doping.
“They just don’t have the will, the determination to effectively police themselves,” he said.
The Rodchenkov Act was born directly out of the Russian scandal. It was introduced in both chambers in January and has bipartisan support. The act applies to all major international competitions that involve American athletes and where organizing bodies receive sponsorship money from companies that do business in the United States or receive broadcasting fees.
Ehrlich said in Poland that WADA urged the world’s anti-doping officials to pursue legislative measures in their home countries, and some – Norway, for example – are considering bills similar to the Rodchenkov Act.
“They encourage each country to have their own legislation,” Ehrlich said. “By the same token, they were concerned about this extraterritorial reach because they indicated, ‘Well, other countries will follow suit.’ My thought was, ‘I thought that’s what you wanted.’ ”